Thursday, December 4, 2008
Let's grab a cab!
When discussing about Japanese taxis, there are both good things and bad things with them in this country. My obvious frame of reference is from my home country Sweden, but from my travels I have come to the conclusion that Europe and the US do not differ so much.
So, to the good things. Taxis are plentiful here and you very very rarely have to wait long for one or call and reserve one, even very early mornings I have easily managed to get a taxi without much wait at all just outside my door. So availability is a definite plus, also, they're reasonably priced here as well, you don't have to give away your first born for a 30min ride somewhere.
Well then, what's the problem you may think. You see, taxi drivers in Japan are usually completely ignorant about the city they live and work in. Throwing out an address will just yield a blank stare and unless your destination is, or is very close to, one of Tokyo's more famous landmarks, the driver will most likely stare at you for a bit waiting for you to give him more instructions and if he doesn't receive it he usually starts driving in the general direction hoping that the issue will resolve itself at some point. It usually never does, so therefore I always bring with me print out maps of the destination nowadays to make sure I don't get stuck in endlessly driving along small streets.
But, assuming that the taxi driver actually knows the destination, then the next inevitable question will come from him: "Which route do you want to take?". Now, I know that this is meant as a service and to avoid customer complaints about detours and stuff later on, it still never fails to annoy me. Since I'm lacking a drivers license and therefore have no idea about the fastest way to drive places I just lamely throw out a "I leave it up to you" after which I usually have to agree to a number of suggestions before we finally get the show on the road.
Just recently I took a taxi and had, as I had learnt the hard way, brought a printed out map since he gave me that blank stare when I told the destination. Then this older gentleman peers at the map for a good minute and then picks up a huge magnifying glass to read the map. Considering the size of this thing I was amazed that he had vision enough to actually drive a taxi... He did get me to the destination though I should mention to his credit, eventually.
Also, a common characteristic for Japanese taxi drivers is that they are almost exclusively male and based on my observations I would estimate the average age to be around 65 years old, and this includes the 20-something driver who drags down the average radically. I remember how he enthustiastically told me how much he loved the Swedish pop group "Atomic Swing" after I had mentioned that I was Swedish... It's a hard life.